Thursday, September 29, 2011

my name is not martini

If you've ever served tables in your life you have probably experienced this strange phenomenon.  Guests who feel that their wait staff are more servants than service professionals, not even worthy of a hello!

I like to lead off my service with a greeting.

"Hello, how is everyone today?"
"Hi there!"
"Hello, my name is Chew, how are you enjoying your day so far?"
"Good evening, nice to see you again!"

Most often the response is a pleasant conversational greeting, often followed by brief small talk then leading into a request/offer for a beverage.

However, it seems that some people leave their common courtesy at the door and ignore my pleasantries.  They skip the hello altogether and go straight for a demand of service.

Me: with a smile "Hello!"
Guest: sternly "Get me a martini, gin, rocks, olives."
Me: standing agape "I'm doing quite well actually thanks for asking!"

The tone is what makes the difference really, and it is hard to express it properly through text.  I could forgive the desperation of someone in need of a stiff drink - perhaps they just saw Grapes of Wrath - but being outright rude for the sake of it is unacceptable.

We, your servers, are not robots and how you treat us makes a difference to the overall enjoyment of your meal.  Try a smile, a quick hello, and if you need information/cocktails that urgently, at least try to be considerate while inquiring.


And Thank you!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

my perfect weekend at Savour Stratford - Sunday

Great to see that sunshine! (I'm thinking positive, right?)

So here we are, anticipating the Sunday of Savour Stratford and again I must plan my day to make sure I don't miss too many wonderful events!

8:00am sharp, Breakfast with Connie, don't miss it.  Even if you're not a morning person, it's Sunday, have a nap later.            [Buy Tickets]

10:00am, full belly, time for that nap.

Now that I am rested and well fed, a stroll through the market sounds nice, a wave to my friends from yesterday in the Craft Beer and Wine Pavillion, I'll be back later.

A few minutes' walk takes me to the Culinary Stage where Chef Denis Cotter demonstrates creative vegetable usage - local vegetables even.

Back to York st. for the main event: the Savour Stratford Tasting.  At $75 per person (general admission) it's a steal: 30 culinary teams, craft breweries and VQA wineries delight the senses.  Savoury and sweet, hot and cold, many different creative talents displayed in one place for you to enjoy.  Favourites from last year to seek out: Uptown 21, Bijou, The Parlour and The Prune.  Don't miss this event, you'll regret it!       [Buy Tickets]

I miss Chuck Hughes a second time, I guess I will have to console myself with delicious cocktails, again prepared and served by local bartending stars.  If only every culinary event had a 'beer tent' like this!

What a great weekend celebrating local food!  I'll see you at the after party back at Molly Blooms for a little risque food related burlesque, I hope the product is local!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

my perfect weekend at Savour Stratford - Saturday

You are of course attending our city's greatest culinary festival this weekend, I have no doubt.  I too shall be there, and with so many things to do I've narrowed down my options and created a kind of schedule for myself.

I will start the day with a wander through the market, maybe a Brit's Apple Frit for breakfast...

Sometime around 10:30am I'll swing by the Culinary Stage to peek in on the 'Best Chef Challenge'.  It's good to keep up on the talent in the city to help decide where to eat dinner later on.

A hard choice to make whether to stay and watch the chefs battle it out to the end or skip on over to the Tasting Tent East to sample some Monforte Cheese and Chateau des Charms Wine?  It's never too early for a little booze, warms the heart and the gullet, but I can't miss Antony John taking to the Main Stage at 11:30am so I'll wander toward the 'Beer Tent' instead.

Perfect location:  the Craft Beer & Wine Pavillion located across from the main stage allows me to sip a tasty beverage and still catch Antony John's crooning sounds.  I skip straight to the cocktails - designed and served up by local bartenders, this is not your average beer tent!  I've heard rumours about hot toddy's.

I have to be honest, I may remain in the Pavillion for some time, why not? I am entertained by a continuous stream of local talent on the Main Stage (Dan Stacey - foot stomping Irish tunes, Montina Hussey - curious to see, Yellow Bird and the Open Cages - eclectic folk that's right up my alley) and great people to see and chat with.

I'm not a total lush (that may be a lie) so after sampling one of each cocktail and feeling quite warmed from the inside out I will meander back into the market for some fresh produce and a pie, you must not forget the pie!

Hmm.... troubling.  It's now 2:00pm, do I continue my foray into beverages at the Tasting Tent West with Sommelier Jamie Drummond, or delve into the gastronomic delights at Tasting Tent East?  Oh, right Connie DeSousa and Fred De Martines - charcuterie at it's finest.  Decision made!                               [Buy Tickets]

No time to make it to see Chuck Hughes today, so over to Market Square for a southern BBQ rib dinner, starts at 3:30pm-6:00pm and look Creemore Springs draft, you know me so well!

Can I still make it to work on time?  I think so...

Thanks Savour Stratford, and all you friendly volunteers, for the 1st day of culinary adventure - I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, September 19, 2011

diet soda

I had an experience a number of years ago that has stuck with me.  I see it often - though to a lesser degree - day to day as I serve people.

A young man sat amidst a group of his peers, he was displaying a medic alert bracelet and sporting a high tech insulin pump - he was a portly lad, certainly over his preferred weight.  He politely ordered a diet coke and I promptly served it to him.  A few moments later while taking the table's order, he asked again, could he have another diet coke.  But of course.  I served it at my next available moment.  The next time I visited the table to see if anyone needed another beverage, he asked again.  Then about 10 minutes later, again.  This young man consumed 12, count them, twelve pints of diet coke over the course of an hour and a half meal.

At this point in my life I had not done research on this particular topic so I couldn't help but think that after so many 'diet' pops he probably was not reaping the benefits of reduced sugar.  I was both right and wrong.

I understand that some of us struggle with weight; obesity, after all, has become one of the leading preventable killers in North America.  I can appreciate the plight of someone trying to cut back on sugar consumption to better avail themselves to lose weight, for personal or health reasons - hence drinking diet soda.  But after a great deal of time making assumptions about diet cola I finally decided it's time I do a little research.

This is what I have discovered:

Now, I was under the impression that diet pop simply had less sugar than regular pop, this is not the case at all.  There are 0 calories in diet pop which is caused by the removal of all natural sugars which are replaced (in most cases) with aspartame.  At first glance one would think that this means it is a safe beverage for diabetics and for those who are trying to trim a few (or many) pounds.  This is not the case, in fact the more I read the more dangerous it seems - though not for the reasons I had originally thought.

The problem comes from the substitute sweetener.  Though it does indeed have far fewer calories than glucose it has an entire set of dangers unique unto itself.  Consuming diet pop causes something that is called “cephalic phase response,” which is basically your brain jumping the gun and telling your body that it needs to produce some insulin and right quick because there are calories on the way!  The sugar never shows up, no calories, no additional energy and the insulin is left waiting, hanging around hoping to be picked up by the dirty old men at Cadance.   This obviously causes major problems for someone with diabetes but also for someone trying to lose weight, it actually makes you want more food and more sugar and then slows down your ability to process fat.  (This info is easily found on the web, but here's an article from Men's Health about the subject.)

Anyways, before I try to get too technical, I just hope that parents reconsider the volume of diet pop their children consume because fat kids are more and more prevalent in restaurants in this city (and others) and poor unsuspecting dieters are being fattened on the diet coke dollar.

Save yourself the bloating, drink water!

Thank you for laughing at the picture, it was too funny to pass up...

Monday, September 12, 2011

dining etiquette + children part 4: dirty diapers

I must apologize in advance for the severity of this post, I am outraged by a scene I witnessed this past week!

If I may help you envision what went on:

Here we are in restaurant X sitting down to a nice evening out (it could be wing night or a casual dinner, heck imagine yourself at McDonald's or even Rundles if you want).  You place your order and food arrives at the table.  At the next table a baby begins to cry quietly.  The mother (I presume) lifts the child, checks the back end and pronounces "ooh that's a stinky one!".  You wait with baited breath, assuming the child will be whisked away to a bathroom facility to be changed, but wait... there's a cloth going down on the table, drinks pushed to the side to allow for the make-shift change station to be laid out.  Baby is put on its back, pants removed, and that velcro/tape combo-sound grates down your back like nails on a chalk board.  That's right!  They're doing it!  Right there in the middle of the dining room, RIGHT ON THE TABLE.  You look down at your own table and wonder...  Brown stained baby wipes are stacked atop the soiled diaper - a scent wafts on the air...

You awake from the horrible nightmare right?  Wrong!

I was frozen in shock as I witnessed this scene unsure whether to ask the couple to leave the restaurant or just go out back and off myself from sheer embarrassment!

There is absolutely, without exception, no possible excuse or explanation for this event taking place in a dining establishment.  I don't care if it's a diner or a pub or a fancy restaurant.  It doesn't matter if it's just a peed in diaper, just a quick change, or you feel outraged because there is no change table in the washrooms.  Urine and feces do not belong in a room where food is being served.  Period.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

a little information about handheld credit card machines

It seems at first like a godsend.  No more coaxing guests from their seats to join you at the credit card machine to process yet another chip card.  Often hard-wired machines are located in service areas that the guest rarely sees up close.  These areas tend to get messy, cluttered and generally unpleasant to behold during a busy service.  The last thing you want is to force your guest away from their conversation to stand in a line-up to process VISA cards en masse at 7:30pm.

Onto the scene arrives the wireless, handheld, credit card terminal!  Hooray!  Now you can approach the guest and stand awkwardly over their shoulder while they fumble through the options and hopefully leave their intended tip (god forbid they miss the decimal place and leave $0.12 instead of $12.00).

First let me start off by letting you in on a secret: the average server is not out to steal your card, you do not need to snatch it from the machine like you are saving a half-naked swimmer from a JAWS attack!  Be patient, these things take a moment to process - especially when the airwaves are bogged down pre-theatre and everyone in the city is racing to the show.  The card has to come out AFTER it says approved, so hang on to your socks, you can have your card back in a moment.

Unfortunately, instead of causing a decrease in the credit/debit card processing time, these little joys of technology have actually increased the time overall.  This is not due to the fact that they take longer to process, it's because of the human element.  People for some reason have an inherent problem following directions, instead they press the keys they assume to be correct which results time and again in a cancelled transaction or the need for correction.

The best advice I can give to those unfamiliar with these machines: FOLLOW THE PROMPTS!

You'll be amazed, if you'd simply read the information on the screen the process is quite simple.  Here are a few extra bits of information to make it even easier!

There are 3 coloured buttons on most machines: green, yellow and red.

1. Consider the green button to be the 'Go' button.  It will move you forward in situations where the machine prompts you to press 'enter' or 'OK'.

2. Yellow is the correction button (backspace) - have you left an overgenerous tip worth a few thousand dollars?  Press the yellow button to delete the last number entered (this works if you mess up your PIN number as well).

3. Don't press the red button!  There is rarely cause for a guest to use the red button.  This is the cancel key and will cause the entire process to be started over - so unless you are refusing to pay the amount listed on your bill, don't touch it - please!

Now the technical stuff - if you're a pro already you can stop reading...

The other important buttons are the F keys.  Most machines will start you off by showing you your total (press 'OK') followed by a prompt to leave a tip in either $ (dollars), % (percent) or $0 (nothing) - each of these options will have an assigned F key (F1, F2, F3).  You must first choose one of these options before proceeding.  If you choose $0 you will jump right to the final totals, press 'OK' (green button), enter pin, press 'OK' (green button), hand terminal to your server.

With a percent option simply key in the two digit number to make up the percentage you would like to leave and press 'OK'.

If you prefer a dollar amount, choose that option then key in the dollars and cents you'd like to leave and press 'OK'.

I hope this helps, both for the confused patron and for the server peeking over their shoulders waiting for the terminal.